Legal services sector: Progress on gender pay gap, but still more to do

Four years on from the introduction of mandatory gender pay gap reporting, the legal services sector has made some steps towards gender pay parity, but a report by the Law Society of England and Wales has identified there is still much more to do.

“In the last four years, there have been signs of progress. Some workplaces are analysing their pay gap data in greater detail and planning action to address underlying causes such as the under-representation of women at senior levels,” said Law Society president I. Stephanie Boyce.

“However, there is still work to be done. Despite women making up over 60% of new entrants to the profession since 1992 and representing over half of all solicitors since 2017, a relatively small proportion are in senior roles.*

“This is a key factor behind the gender pay gap in the profession and it was a focus of the Law Society’s Women in Leadership in Law programme and the Women in Law Pledge, which I’d urge members to commit to.

“Our latest research on pay gap reporting over the past four years provides important benchmarking data and insights, which means workplaces can assess their approaches so far and learn from their peers.

“Workplaces are likely to be preparing for the fifth year of gender pay gap reports and will have the opportunity to consider the impact the pandemic and new ways of working have had.

“We hope this new analysis will encourage all workplaces to have a full and frank look at their pay gap data, what has been achieved, and commit to action that accelerates progress in the next five years.”

Key findings

Progress over time

  • For the 41 largest law firms submitting data in 2017 and 2020, there was a slight decrease in the average gender pay gap, based on the mean, of -1.38% over the four years
  • The average gap in median pay saw a 0.8% increase over the period
  • Looking ahead to the next round of gender pay gap reports in spring 2022, the data is likely to reveal the impact of the pandemic as it will be possible to compare pay gaps in April 2021 with April 2020
  • There is evidence that women’s careers have been disproportionately affected, as women were more likely to have cared for their children when schools and nurseries closed during lockdown.
  • For some women, this meant changes to working hours and work responsibilities, which though welcome at the time, could also have longer term career implications
  • Data from the Office for National Statistics shows that the national gender pay gap widened between April 2020 and April 2020, from 7% to 7.9%

Firms reporting a decrease

  • 28 out of 41 law firms saw a decrease in their mean gender pay gap based on hourly pay between 2017 and 2020, 12 firms experienced an increase and one firm saw no change
  • Based on the median, 20 firms experienced a decrease, and 21 firms saw an increase

Minimum and maximum pay gaps

  • The range of pay gaps reported has shifted downwards
  • For example, in 2017, the highest mean gender pay gap was 39.1%, in 2020 it was 38.8%. The lowest mean gender pay gap reported in 2017 was 12.8%, in 2020 one firm had a mean gender pay gap that was -1.1% (in favour of women)

Gender bonus gaps

  • On average, the largest law firms reported a similar proportion of men (58.3%) and women (59.6%) received bonuses, but on average, men’s were of higher value
  • The average gap between the value of men’s and women’s bonuses in 2020 was 39.4% based on the mean, and the median was 38.3%

Pay quartiles

  • Women make up the largest share of employees in each pay quartile in the law firms covered by this analysis
  • They are particularly over-represented in the lower pay quartiles and representation falls in the upper pay quartile
  • The average percentage of women in the lower, the lower middle and the upper middle pay quartiles decreased slightly between 2017 and 2020, while the percentage of women in the top pay quartile increased

I. Stephanie Boyce added: “In our report, we outline a number of recommendations firms and organisations can implement to work towards gender pay parity.

“This includes performing more detailed analysis of the data, engaging with staff across the organisation, and developing actions to address the specific causes of pay gaps and differences in career trajectories.

“It is time to reflect, to learn on what has helped or hindered progress, and to revise plans for improved progress over the next five years

“Pay gap reporting was designed to increase transparency and in doing so to encourage action. We hope our analysis will renew focus on how we can close the gender pay gap and create a profession that is fully inclusive.”

Notes to editors

All statistics in this press release are taken from our report, Gender pay gap reporting: What can be learned from the 2020 snapshot?

The report analyses data from the largest 41 law firms who have submitted pay gap data for the April 2020 pay period snapshot.

* Figures from our report Diversity Profile of the Solicitors’ Profession 2019

The report is based on the law firms’ reported data to the National Pay Gap Service website for the pay periods covering April 2017 and April 2020. Some law firms have published slightly different data on their own websites.

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Press office contact: Naomi Jeffreys | 020 8049 3928

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